by Jen Nadol
Cassandra Renfield has always seen the mark—a glow around certain people reminiscent of candlelight. But the one time she mentioned it, it was dismissed as a trick of the light. Until the day she watches a man awash in the mark die. After searching her memories, Cassie realizes she can see a person’s imminent death. Not how or where, only when: today.
Armed with a vague understanding of the light, Cassie begins to explore her “gift,” seeking those marked for death and probing the line between decision and destiny. Though she’s careful to hide her secret—even from her new philosophy-obsessed boyfriend—with each impending death comes the temptation to test fate. But so many questions remain. How does the mark work? Why is she the only one who sees it? And finally, the most important of all: If you know today is someone’s last, should you tell them?
I had been hearing a lot of good stuff about The Mark, a debut by Jen Nadol, and I was intrigued by the premise which, though gaining in popularity and starting to crop up everywhere, was a bit fresher at the time. I have to say, overall I enjoyed it, but I do have some reservations.
It took me awhile to get into the story the way I wanted to. It was never that I disliked it, because I didn't, but it took me quite awhile to feel invested in Cassie and her story. It just felt a little soft to me. I don't know if that will make sense to you, but it's a book about death, essentially, and everything was just a bit too rose-colored for me. There was a disconnect, and as I was reading, I felt like, okay, that's nice...but forgettable, essentially, and it took me about 1/2 of the book to feel invested and start caring.
I think what brought me around was that at one point, the book becomes very philosophical (the result of Cassie taking a summer philosophy course and beginning to question her ability and its implications). I read one review where the reader didn't like that the book sort of rotated on this, and became more a coming of age book, all about self-discovery rather than the paranormal romance she thought she was going to be reading. I get that, but for me, it was the questions that made it. Nadol was able to depict that endless cycling of ifs and buts that would come from trying to work your way through this type of ability. Cassie came alive for me in this, because I thought her reactions and thought processes felt very authentic. She was realistic and hesitant and very, very cautious, which played well off of Lucas' self-righteousness and easy morality. This finally allowed me to connect to Cassie, and changed my opinion of the book enough so that I felt it actually was a pretty successful book in the end. Except --
Except for the end. Well, not the very end, but near to. Without giving anything away, up until that point, Cassie's ability and its origins was fairly ambiguous, and I enjoyed that. I'm all for willing suspension of disbelief, and I don't feel everything has to be explained or clear so long as it works. If Cassie doesn't know, we don't know, and that makes sense. But then right at the end, there was something thrown in that sort of changed the whole thing for me, and I am not sure how I feel about it. I don't know if this is going to be a stand-alone book (I would respect it more, honestly, if it was), but because of the element introduced at the end and a few loose ends, I have a feeling there is more coming. If said element was to lay groundwork for a series, it felt a little sloppy to me, and a little silly, if I'm being honest. After all of the well-thought philosophy, it really disappointed me because it felt like a ploy. Maybe I'm just being cynical, but it is what it is, and it knocked back my opinion of the book again. Not enough to outweigh that I did enjoy it. But between the beginning where I didn't care, and the end where I felt a bit cheated and irritated, I feel like I only got about 1/3 of a solid story that I care about. It was a good 1/3, and I would recommend this*, but it bears mentioning.
So, all in all, a solid debut with some downsides, but still likely to win over teens and not-so-teens.
*I know, I know. You're thinking, why did you have to tell me all of these negatives just to say, But you should still read it... Why do I do this? Because I can.
Just real quick, this isn't a bonus so much as a -- well, warning? I dunno. Basically I just wanted to let you know that there is an absentee adult thing going on in this book, as in many YAs, and I feel a rant-like discussion coming on sometime in the future. I warn because this isn't the first future-rant I've mentioned of late, so...
Here is my Teaser Tuesday reading for The Mark. Or you can watch author Jen Nadol read the entire first chapter, surrounded by neat purple-flamed candles, here.